A study reported in The Independent today, commissioned by The British Lung Foundation has caused mixed reactions amongst its readers as to the veracity of its findings. The study ‘revealed’ that by smoking cannabis you are 20 times more likely to be at risk of contracting lung cancer and yet young users of the illegal drug are unaware of the potential damage it can pose. Cannabis is the UK’s most popular drug with more than a third of under 25’s using it but 88% of them believe it is less dangerous than tobacco. Dame Helena Shovelton, who is the British Lung Foundation chief executive said, “New research continues to reveal the multiple health consequences of smoking cannabis, [yet] there is still a dangerous lack of public awareness of quite how harmful this drug can be.” She added, “Young people in particular are smoking cannabis unaware that each cannabis cigarette they smoke increases their chances of developing lung cancer by as much as an entire packet of 20 tobacco cigarettes.” Dame Shovelton wants a public health campaign to ‘dispel the myth that smoking cannabis is somehow a safe pastime’.
It is thought that the reason smoking cannabis is more dangerous than smoking cigarettes, per cigarette is because of the way cannabis joints are smoked. Cannabis smokers inhale the smoke more deeply and hold it longer than tobacco smokers. The estimated time a cannabis smoker holds the smoke inside their lungs is on average four times longer and two thirds larger than the average puff of a tobacco cigarette. This means that a typical cannabis smoker will inhale four times as much tar and five times as much carbon monoxide. Moreover, as you continue smoking the joint the smoke particles become more concentrated and more harmful.
However, where the study falls down is that it does not state whether the joints have tobacco in them and if this is the cause of the increased risk of lung cancer or if it is the element of cannabis that is to blame. Is the study saying that by holding the smoke of tobacco inside our lungs when we smoke a cannabis joint is harmful, or is the study saying that the actual cannabis is harmful? So if we smoked a joint with pure cannabis and no tobacco would that still give us an increased risk of contracting lung cancer? And what of those people who do not smoke cannabis but inhale the vapours through water steam without tobacco? Are they also at greater risk? We need clearer definitions as to what exactly is the risk – cannabis or the increased length of time due to the way the joint is smoked when there is tobacco in the joint that is the problem. This sort of scare mongering serves no purpose to the general public other than to make them angry and reluctant to take on board any advice.
Cannabis has many therapeutic qualities and unlike tobacco is not known to be addictive. In addition, many users of cannabis tend to give up smoking cannabis in their 30s, which limits their long-term exposure; this is a crucial factor in cigarette-induced lung cancer. And two long-term studies of the drug involving more than 100,000 people in Sweden and the US found no increase in deaths.
Perhaps as suggested by the many comments from people who read the original article, it should have be titled differently as not to suggest that cannabis was to blame for the increased risk to health, rather the way cannabis joints are smoked with tobacco that are the fault.
Source – The Independent